Shirley Conran Lace (1982)
Lili’s eyes did not glisten. They glared. They projected rage and fury. For a moment the star stood silent as she surveyed the four older women: Kate in her mulberry suit by the door; Pagan in pink, sprawled across the apricot cushions; Maxine poised, porcelain cup in one hand, the saucer held on her blue silk lap; Judy in brown velvet, on the edge of the sofa with shoulders hunched, hands under her chin, elbows on her knees, scowling right back at Lili. Then Lili spoke. “All right,” she said, “which one of you bitches is my mother?”
I didn't read Lace as a teenager, although - thanks to the public library - I did devour my fair share of bonkbusters by Judith Krantz (the unforgettable Princess Daisy, for instance; and if you haven't read Clive James' review of this in the LRB, you MUST MUST MUST!).
When Lace was reissued I thought that this was my chance to recover a bit of my lost prurient teenaged years. And, in that sense, the reissue of Lace as an e-book is perfect, for no one can tell what you are reading.
Yet, I don't think one should be too ashamed of adding it to one's reading list. As Desperate Reader has written in her fine review, Lace remains an important and relevant book for women. The dangers, prejudices and active discrimination that these women faced from the 1950s to 1980s still remain relevant, and Lace is a book that celebrates what women can achieve despite the odds. It also celebrates the power of female friendship and the value of female independence.
To bring you up to speed, five women dominate Lace. Four of them meet at finishing school in Switzerland: Maxine, who will become a French countess and chateau-restorer and fan of having couturier clothing torn from her elegant, nip-and-tucked body; Pagan ("wonderful mahogany hair"; Jean Muir leg o'mutton sleeves), impoverished aristocrat, "perplexed, hopeless drunkard", and charity fund-raiser; Kate, timid unlikely war correspondent who can make a single biscuit last two hours and drives a "silver Karmann Ghia"; Judy, poor country gal transformed into top New York PR queen with a fancy for purple Courrèges pantsuits (who really should have been a lesbian). The fifth woman, Lili, superstar actress, ex-porn star, wearer of Diorissimo and a sucker for/of buttered asparagus tips, is, as the most famous line of Lace suggests, the long-lost daughter of one of these women. The book does that jumping back and forward thing so characteristic of 70s/80s' bonkbuster 700 page epics, as we try to figure out who bore Lili and who the father might have been.
Let me simply offer some choice passages to demonstrate what you've been missing.
Then he collapsed on top of her and Kate felt a stickiness trickling over her collarbone and down her neck. She knew what it was and she didn't dare move in case some of the stuff got in the wrong place. She was terrified.
Softly, insistently, Pierre again pulled her hand downward and clasped it over his flesh. Maxine decided to pretend that it wasn't her hand. She was terrified of doing something wrong, of hurting him. Did you bend it forward? Did you rotate it? Could it snap off?
…he was the Nijinsky of cunnilingus…
[this is the same bloke who likes to jazz up sexual shenanigans with a goldfish up the cooter.]
“That V neck doesn’t plunge as low as the one in the show,” Maxine criticised. “No, Monsieur Dior kindly agreed to a high neck. Before six-thirty and after forty-five one should never show an inch of skin.”
Maxine needed a great deal of underwear for a very private reason.
The perils of alcohol:
Serge stormed into Senequier, drank a bottle of brandy, then drove wildly to Cap Camerat where he strangled the white cockatoo.
Opposite the window was a fifty-foot run of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lacquered Chinese red. Not all the shelves contained books; Kate's collection of antique snuff boxes stood on one; another held a small collection of terra-cotta ancient Greek votive statuettes and other shelves held small, charming objects—a seventeenth-century bronze of a man wrestling with a bull by Garnier, a tiny yellow Meissen patch-box that had once belonged to Madame de Pompadour.
General good advice:
Judy said, “Real protection isn’t a man—it’s money! That’s what gives you the power to do good, the power to be bad, the power to stay or to leave.”
So, Lace - go on… Yes, it's pretty awful. Also sordid. Ridiculous. Funny for many wrong reasons. Addictive.
Where do I go from here…? I've also never read any Jilly Cooper. And I think I need a monogrammed crocodile jewellery case and a set of sables.